Tipton girl collects "cans for a cure"

Graci Diggs stands next to piles of cans donated for "Cans for a Cure."

A nine-year-old Tipton girl is collecting cans to raise money for arthritis treatment and research.

"We're doing it to find a cure for arthritis so all the other kids like me don't have to be in wheel chairs, not be able to walk, or won't be able to go to very many places because they can't walk," Graci Diggs said.

Graci's battle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis began when she was about two years old, manifesting in rashes and overall poor health.

But in August, 2009, Graci awoke with a swollen knee. After five months of tests and doctor's visits, she was officially diagnosed.

After treatment, the arthritis went into remission; but it came back when Graci was in second grade.

"And this time it kind of hit her personally," Graci's mom, Anna Diggs, said.

"It took away, kind of, her dignity and her ability to keep up with her friends and stuff. And so we kind of started to see her little spirit slip away with the arthritis this time."

"It's not really fun, because I'm just an active girl," Graci said.

"I really don't sit inside and watch TV. I like to do basketball and volleyball and ride my bike around town."

Anna started researching charities and foundations to volunteer for to help Graci out of her emotional slump and came across the Arthritis Foundation and the Jingle Bell Run.

Graci also spoke to her classmates about her condition, including why she may not be able to play for as long as them and why she, at times, may require a wheel chair.

But Graci decided to take her activism one step further, and launched her own fundraiser called "Cans for a Cure."

Anna turned to Facebook to get the word out.

"I had invited 400 friends. By Friday there were 1400 people that had been invited to participate, and by Sunday morning...our yard was full of cans, full of bags," Anna said.

The cans will all be recycled for money for the Arthritis Foundation.

"It's amazing. My town is just so supportive of me and it's just really fun to do it and I just want to thank my town," Graci said.

"It makes my 'mommy heart' proud. I'm very proud of her. She's got a big heart too," Anna said.

"She's very wise for her age, I say she's got an old soul, but she's a great kid and she enjoys it and we're here to back her in any way we can."

The Diggs' will continue collecting cans through November, the month before the Jingle Bell Run in Columbia. If you want to contribute, you can drop cans off at their home at 413 Ferguson Avenue in Tipton.